Online networking is a mystery for many – seemingly it takes so much time and one can hardly ever see results of it, at least on the surface. This is an ongoing discussion I have with a couple of friends and I recently received the same question from one of my LinkedIn (LI) connections:
Mostly I see you so actively involved in different types of discussions at different forums. I could not yet understand what professional benefit people get by involving in public discussions. It takes so much time to reply the queries and then of course you are left with much less time for your actual work. Can you kindly give me an idea how you utilize your active participation in discussions.
So that’s what today’s post is about – a brief overview of professional benefits of online networking.
Participation in public discussions is part of my marketing strategy.
I take an active part in various freelance and marketing related discussions for a few main reasons. The most important one is to share my experience and help others succeed as freelancers or in marketing their businesses and blogs.
This in turns help me to connect with many people who are potential buyers of my products and services – e.g. books, mentoring and coaching sessions, training courses, and so on.
We live in a world that paying for advertising is not always the most effective approach. In my line of business personal connection is everything. My name and my personality is my brand. I am helpful above all – only if I am helpful and people like me, will I be able to earn a living as a marketing consultant, a freelance mentor and coach, or a book author.
By building a strong network of connections whom I have helped in some way, those people are more likely to come to me or recommend me to their friends and colleagues when in need of a freelance advice or marketing consultation.
I don’t spend any time proactively marketing my services because networking on a personal level with prospective clients and users of my products is what it takes to be on their minds when they need something I have to offer.
And note that when I say online networking, I don’t mean only the LI group discussions my connection asked me about. It is that plus addressing comments on my blog, replying to readers’ emails, social media comments and direct messages, helping spread the word about other freelancers, bloggers, and authors who have done an awesome job with something. All of this falls in the online networking category.
What happens during online networking
Say you are a starting freelancer and you are a member of a certain LI group. You read the discussions in it and leave the occasional comment. From time to time you even ask a question of your own. You find my blog through that LI group, opt-in to my email list and become a loyal reader because you like what I have to say and you find it useful. You hear from me regularly (on LI, via email or just through my blog) and you put into practice some or all the tips I give you. Remember that I give them for free, no strings attached. You start growing as a result of your connection with me.
It didn’t cost me anything extra (apart from my time which I would spend writing and helping anyway) – all I did was answering some questions and sharing my knowledge online. But the benefits I have are many.
- You know me and trust me
When you ask a few questions during a certain period of time and I always come to the rescue with an answer, you remember me. You know that should you need help or advice about something, you can always pop in on my blog, email me or just start a LI discussion and I will show up with an answer to the best of my abilities.
First step to getting professional benefits is made – you know me. People are more likely to award their project to, seek advice from or recommend someone they know rather than someone they have never heard of.
Because I helped you with advice on several occasions, you put my tips into practice and you saw they bring the results I said they will, you start trusting me, too. And trust is everything. In a highly competitive market where most people always have ulterior motives to do something, it’s important to build trust. The feeling you are not being taken for a ride is reassuring.
- You see my expertise and think I am smart
When I address your questions online or just write a blog post, inevitably you learn how I think, what is important to me, what my work ethics and principles are. You see what expertise I have on what matters. You test my tips and you see if/when/how they work.
When I help you with something, you not only see my expertise in the matter but also, you think I am smart because I knew the answer to a question that bothered you for so long; because I make it easy for you to solve your problem.
- You like me for one reason or the other
If you continuously read my blog, exchange comments with me, email me or are in touch in some other way, I think it’s a safe bet that you like me. Of course, you can hate-read my blog but then we would probably not exchange comments or emails on a regular basis and you are not who I am talking to in this post 😀
It’s impossible to be liked by everyone – but that’s just fine. I don’t want to be liked by everyone – just like I don’t want to work with every client who knocks on my (virtual) door. And honestly, being picky about clients and people with whom I network is one of the reasons many people like me. It makes my network seem somewhat exclusive.
Other reasons for liking me that come to mind are – I am helpful with no strings attached; I don’t sugar coat and I am always honest; I don’t tell people what to do or think, rather I help them figure out on their own the best course of action in their specific situation.
Clients have repeatedly told me that one of my best professional (and personal) traits is that I put my heart into my work. Everything I do is with their best interest and goal in mind. I won’t take a project if I don’t know that I am suitable and capable to help. I won’t offer to help you, if I have not been where you are and don’t know exactly what your problem is or how to fix it. You like me for that, don’t you?
How these relate to the professional benefits of networking online
To quote a favorite client of mine, people do business with you if they like you, trust you and think you are smart. Look up – did I not just tell you how online networking makes you like me, trust me and think I am smart?
Should you need and have the budget for a professional consultation about something at some point, you are more likely to come to me because of the above, wouldn’t you say?
Thanks for reading and be sure to connect with me 😉
If you decide to invite me to connect on LinkedIn, please, pretty please – customize your invite message so I know who you are and why you want to add me to your network.
This concept is the same that it has always been, except it has morphed into an online connection. Years ago, I had a sales territory that few people liked to go to. I went every month and soon, these customers were buying from me exclusively. Why? Because they “saw” me, knew I’d be there every month without fail, they got to know me, liked me, and all those things you wisely point out. It’s the same online…people see you consistently through your interactions, they get to know you! They FEEL like they know you and trust starts to build as you share your knowledge. Great points about the professional benefits of networking online.
Diana Marinova says
Great example with your sales territory, Jacquie – it is baffling how people continuously overlook the importance of personal touch and relationship in business, be it online or offline.
Deevra Norling says
This is a very good point Diana. Something I certainly underestimate. It is a fairly big investment of one’s time and I guess it boils down to what the return on that investment is. If one is reaping good benefits from it, then it is certainly worth the time and effort.
Diana Marinova says
You bring up a VERY important point, Deevra – online networking for the sake of networking may or may not bring results. However, if you have your goals and purposefully make online networking as part of you plan to achieve those goals, only then it will pay off. And yes, it takes a lot of time to it’s important one knows how to prioritize. 😉
Elna Cain (@ecainwrites) says
Beautifully said! Personal networking is a key in your overall marketing plan. No matter if you’re leaving blog comments, sharing content or engaging in social media groups, in order for your business to grow, you need to network.
Most of my queries are through social media and I know that is because I’ve been diligent in networking all around!
Diana Marinova says
Way to go, Elna – you also bring an important point. Online networking is one thing but then analyzing the benefits you get and further tweaking your approach for better ROI is equally important.
Jeri Walker (@JeriWB) says
From the very beginning of starting my blog and watching it morph into an editing business I’ve always aimed to make online connections. It really is time consuming but ultimately rewarding. This post really strikes a chord with me and makes me feel like I am at least excelling this this area, and by doing well with online networking, my client base continues to grow.
Diana Marinova says
You are a great example how one can benefit from online networking, Jeri. I was planning to include you in this post as an example but eventually decided not to because it was long as is. But let me elaborate in a comment.
When I first started playing with the idea of writing a book, I had an editor in mind – I had worked with her a couple of times on clients’ projects, I was very happy with her work and I am sure she would have done an amazing job. However, some time along the way, I “met” you.
I liked your blog, we exchanged comments and emails regularly, we got to know each other more or less. I liked you, I started trusting you, and of course – I do think you are smart hahaha. I liked hanging out with you, so to speak. And when the time for editing my book came, I didn’t even look elsewhere – you were the one and only person I asked for a price quote. You did a great job staying on top of mind with me through blogging and online networking.
So yes, you are doing a great job with your online networking and I am sure I am not the only client who has awarded their project to you as a result.
Have a lovely weekend and have fun copyediting my 2nd draft 😉
Blasto Pala says
I trust you, like you and think you are smart…..great job once again 🙂
Diana Marinova says
Thanks, Blasto – I am glad my blog meets your expectations and needs yet another time 😀
Thanks Diana for sharing this. In the little experience that I have, I would say that 100% of my clients have hunted me down. I have only just started freelancing so this is a wonderful thing. I don’t even have a proper website yet (although I have a blog). Glad to know I am on the right track and look forward to reading more of your articles
Diana Marinova says
Kuddos to you, Jennifer, for getting found by clients early on in your freelance career. That really is a wonderful thing 😀
As for the website, don’t worry – I didn’t have one when I was starting either and it never stopped me from succeeding. I created this site about 3 years after I started working as a freelancer. However, having a website definitely helps add credibility to you as a person and as a professional so keep on going in the right direction 😉